TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — “It’s disappointing and really hard,” says Lillian Van Winkle.
After being denied a highly ranked division Co-Organizer Jane Barron says Red Hills has called it quits.
“The premise of the bid was keeping one particular international designer here and when we lost the 4-star division, which is the upper-level division, we lost that designer,” Barron said.
From there, there was a ripple effect. After not being able to lock down a well-respected designer, it was hard to fill competition slots. The Red Hills Team decided there wasn’t enough revenue to support the event any further.
The equestrian competition that has taken place annually in Leon County since 1997.
With 220 competitors the event brings in 20,000 attendees annually. To no surprise this event is not planned overnight, instead, it can take up to a year to put together and requires 500 volunteers on average. Though the event is supported by volunteers and sponsors, it costs upwards of $600,000 to produce an event of this size.
“You get to come and watch the top riders. You get to see the Olympians Boyd Martin, Karen O’Connor. We’ve gotten to see them in person, in the flesh right in front of us. It’s so inspiring,” says Van Winkle.
Van Winkle started as a Red Hills Volunteer at just 6 years old. Now, 20 years later, she shares the experience with her mom. Last year she competed for the first time at the Horse Trials. She shares that the experience was thrilling because it was something she had worked towards most of her life. Now, with the news of the closing of Red Hills Van Winkle can’t help but think of the kids coming up behind her.
“Looking back that are 10 or 11 and they probably had the same goal that I had to one day ride here and they may not get to realize that goal and that’s really, really sad,” says Van Winkle.
As for what’s next Van Winkle says she will continue to compete with her horse Cleopatra.